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Battle of Ujëbardha
Part of the Ottoman wars in Europe
Beteja e Albulenës.jpg
Beteja e Albulenës by Fatmir Haxhiu
Date September 2, 1457
Location North-central Albania between Lezha and Kruja
Result Albanian victory
Belligerents
Flag of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1844).svg Ottoman Empire StemaeFamiljesKastrioti2.GIF League of Lezhë
Commanders
Isak Bey Evrenoz

Hamza Kastrioti #

Skanderbeg
Strength
40,000[1] to 50,000[2] 12,000[3] to 20,000[4]
Casualties and losses
15,000 to 30,000 dead, 15,000 captured, 24 horse-tails[5] Unknown

The Battle of Ujëbardha, also known as the battle of Albulena, was fought on September 2, 1457 between Albanian forces led by Skanderbeg and an expeditionary force of the Ottoman Empire. It was one of Skanderbeg's most important victories against the Ottoman army in the open field.

The Ottoman expeditionary force was approximately as high as 80,000 men,[6] although it is doubtful they numbered more than 40,000 in the actual battle, as several thousand were deployed in several different regions of the countryside. The Albanian forces, numbering around 20,000, confronted the Ottoman army on the field of Ujebardha located halfway between Lezhë and Krujë.

Background

The Second Battle of Kosovo had ended with the defeat of John Hunyadi, voivode of Transylvania. Skanderbeg and his forces arrived too late to provide the help Hunyadi had counted on; as a result of the defeat, the Ottomans were free from Hungarian pressure, which had effectively been limited to Belgrade and its environs.[7]

In 1456 Sultan Mehmed II marched a large army to besiege Belgrade in Serbia.[8] The citadel of Nándorfehérvár, as it was then called, other than being a Christian stronghold, was also of a great strategic importance since it guarded the backdoor to the Kingdom of Hungary. The Siege of Belgrade lasted several weeks, but the intervention of John Hunyadi forced the Ottomans to withdraw. Three weeks later, however, Hunyadi died of plague; for Skanderbeg Albania would likely face the Ottomans alone. Prior to this, most major battles against the Ottoman invasion were fought by other eastern European resistance forces, and Skanderbeg had been quite successful in mostly guerilla warfare.

The commanders

In spring 1457, Mehmed II dispatched a force of about 40,000 men, led by Isa Beg Evrenoz and Hamza Kastrioti, Skanderbeg's nephew.[5] Evrenoz had previously defeated Scanderbeg in the Siege of Berat. Hamza, who had served Scanderbeg for more than a decade, defected for ambition.

Both of the Ottoman leaders were competent commanders. An added asset for Hamza was that he had spent 14 years by the side of Skanderbeg and knew every military tactic his uncle had employed against the Ottomans. By vanquishing Albania, the Sultan could resume his two-pronged attack on Europe by reaching Rome and Vienna, his proclaimed ambitions.

Skanderbeg, leading the Albanian forces, had served several years in the Ottoman army, as both soldier and commander, before returning to his homeland.[9] He had also achieved some success previously against the Ottoman invasions of Albania, and had successfully defended his castle against prior Ottoman siege attempts.[10]

The battle

Engraving of an Albanian assault on a Turkish camp.

The plan was to engage Skanderbeg and defeat him, realizing that without Skanderbeg Albanian resistance would break quickly. Evrenoz entered the valley of the Mat River and proceeded slowly westwards toward Krujë. A few minor clashes ensued, after which Skanderbeg withdrew his forces. Unhindered, the Ottomans carried on, plundering the small settlements and harassing the population for information. After several weeks and no sign of Skanderbeg, Evrenoz and Hamza were induced into believing that Skanderbeg had fled. Sketchy reports were coming in that he had lost the loyalty of the army, who had deserted him, and he was attempting to cross the border over to the domains of Venice. In fact, on July 21, Marco Diedo, the Venetian governor of Durrës had written to the republic’s senate that: “The Magnificent Skanderbeg, deserted by all was trying to find refuge high in the mountains, while the Turk ruled supreme in Albania."

In August the position of the Ottomans in Albania seemed solidified. 20,000 soldiers protected the supply routes, while keeping under siege the forts in Cidhna, Dibra, Guri i Bardhe (White Stone). Another 15,000 or more put to siege the fortresses of Mat, Rodon, and Petrela. The rest of the army, some 30,000 or so by some estimates, moved from the gully of Mat to Ujebardha, northwest of Krujë and south of Lezhë so that both cities could be kept under watch, as well as giving the army something to do to keep morale in place. By the end of August, three months after they crossed the border, the Ottoman army seemed to have reached a level of complacency, and its vigilance had lowered significantly.

On September 2 Skanderbeg went on the offensive. He had to deliver a strong and surprising thrust to the main Ottoman army and destroy it before any of the additional forces that were roaming the country free could come to its relief. If the battle lasted too long, and his forces were forced to fight head to head with a sizable Ottoman force, the odds would be in favor of the Ottomans. Small Albanian detachments harassed the outer Ottoman patrols, while the main body of the Albanian army approached the northern side of the camp. At noon, the Ottomans were awakened from their midday sleep to find their enemy already within their camp. An infernal noise, produced by thousands of metal-clapping devices, gave the impression that they were facing a large force. Confusion settled in as the Albanian cavalry charged on from the west, while the infantry punched its way through to the center of the camp.

Soon confusion turned to panic as Ottoman unit commanders failed to address the situation properly. An attempt at a defense was mounted by Hamza, but Skanderbeg had placed considerable care in defeating Hamza and his sipahis first, by sending his personal guard of 2,000 cavalry. Hamza was pushed back in panic and the thrust had achieved complete surprise. Within two hours the Ottoman camp was entirely in Albanian hands, while the remnants of the defeated army made their way through the valley of Tirana and on to Elbasan. The Ottoman dead may have been as high as 30,000,[4] but it is unlikely that they suffered more than 15,000 deaths. In addition, 15,000 Ottomans were captured, and all the riches in the camp was lost. [5]

Hamza Kastrioti was captured alive and sent to detention in Naples on charges of treason. He was freed later and went with his wife and children in the Ottoman Empire, where he died as a beggar in the early 1460s.

Significance

The Battle of Ujëbardha was significant for the southern resistance against the Ottoman Empire. The victory bought Albania and Italy time; in 1460, Mehmed and Skanderbeg signed an armistice that lasted three years.[11]

In 1461 Skanderbeg campaigned in Italy to protect his ally, King Ferdinand I of Naples, in his struggle to retain his throne from the rival house of Anjou. Ferdinand, as was his father King Alfonso V of Aragon, was Skanderbeg’s most important ally supplying him with money, supplies and modern weapons.

Notes

  1. ^ Hodgkinson 146.
  2. ^ Francione 137.
  3. ^ Francione 140.
  4. ^ a b Adskillige store Heltes og berømmelige Mænds sammenlignede Historier (Danish) by Ludvig Holberg
  5. ^ a b c Babinger, page 152.
  6. ^ Setton 193.
  7. ^ Runciman 46.
  8. ^ Setton 174. Contemporary estimates that the army numbered 150,000 are regarded as exaggerated by modern historians.
  9. ^ Elsie 162.
  10. ^ Davenport 10.
  11. ^ Sugar 67.

Bibliography

  • Babinger, Franz (1978). Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time. Ralph Mannheim, translator. Princeton: Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691010781.
  • Davenport, R. A. (1838). The Life of Ali Pasha of Tepelini. London: Thomas Tegg.
  • Elsie, Robert (2004). Historical Dictionary of Kosova. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0810853094.
  • Francione, Gennaro (2003). Skenderbeu: Një hero modern. Trans. Tasim Aliaj. Tirana: Shtëpia botuese "Naim Frashëri". ISBN 992738758.
  • Hodgkinson, Harry (1999). Scanderbeg: From Ottoman Captive to Albanian Hero. London: Centre for Albanian Studies. ISBN 1873928130.
  • Runciman, Steven (1990). The Fall of Constantinople 1453. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521398320.
  • Setton, Kenneth (1978). The Papacy and the Levant. American Philosophical Society, ISBN 0871691140.
  • Suger, Peter F (1983). Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804. Seattle: University of Washington Press, ISBN 0295960337.

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